In Search of Human Placentophagy: A Cross-Cultural Survey of Human Placenta Consumption, Disposal Practices, and Cultural Beliefs

Department of Anthropology, University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Las Vegas, Nevada 89154-5003, USA.
Ecology of Food and Nutrition (Impact Factor: 0.81). 11/2010; 49(6):467-84. DOI: 10.1080/03670244.2010.524106
Source: PubMed


Maternal placentophagy, the consumption of the placenta or "afterbirth" by the mother following parturition, is an ubiquitous behavior among eutherian mammals, including non-human primates. Here we report on a cross-cultural survey of 179 human societies regarding the consumption, treatment, and disposal of human placenta, in addition to accompanying cultural beliefs and perceptions about the organ. The conspicuous absence of cultural traditions associated with maternal placentophagy in the cross-cultural ethnographic record raises interesting questions relative to its ubiquitous presence among nearly all other mammals, and the reasons for its absence (or extreme rarity) among prehistoric/historic and contemporary human cultures.

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    • "The Compendium of Materia Medica was published in 1593 by one of the first and greatest biologists and pharmaceutical experts of China, Li Shi-Zhen (Figure 1). This medical text is a Chinese record of substances with medical properties, and it contains a section entirely devoted to the medical uses of human placenta " zi he chi " as a medicine (Young and Benyshek, 2010). At that time, eating the placenta was thought to be beneficial but since then there has been a shift of paradigms in which scientific rationale supports clinical benefit of placental tissues, or derivatives, for treating patients afflicted by a variety of diseases. "
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    ABSTRACT: In the 1800s, a baby born with a caul, a remnant of the amniotic sack or fetal membranes, was thought to be lucky, special, or protected. Over time, fetal membranes lost their legendary power and were soon considered nothing more than biological waste after birth. However, placenta tissues have reclaimed their potential and since the early 1900s an increasing body of evidence has shown that these tissues have clinical benefits in a wide range of wound repair and surgical applications. Nowadays, there is a concerted effort to understand the mechanisms underlying the beneficial effects of placental tissues, and, more recently, cells derived thereof. This review will summarize the historical and current clinical applications of human placental tissues, and cells isolated from these tissues, and discuss some mechanisms thought to be responsible for the therapeutic effects observed after tissue and/or cell transplantation.
    Full-text · Article · Nov 2015 · Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
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    • "They identified only one account in which a White woman in the U.S.– Mexico border region consumed her placenta. Additional corroborating accounts in the ethnographic literature are lacking (Young & Benyshek, 2010). Ober (1979) proposed that cultures that practiced human sacrifice may also have practiced placentophagy, but anthropologic evidence of this is lacking. "
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    ABSTRACT: Postpartum women are consuming their placentas to achieve claimed health benefits, including improved mood, energy, and lactation. Strong scientific evidence to substantiate these claims is lacking. Self-reported benefits from some women include improved mood and lactation; animal models suggest there may be an analgesic effect. Possible risks include infection, thromboembolism from estrogens in placental tissue, and accumulation of environmental toxins. Women’s health care providers should be aware of this practice to help women make informed decisions.
    Preview · Article · Nov 2015 · Journal of Obstetric Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing
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    • "Placentophagia, or the process of ingesting placenta (and amniotic fluid) during and after parturition, is common among mammals, with only a few exceptions (humans: Young & Benyshek, 2010; semi-aquatic and aquatic mammals, camelids: Young, Benyshek, & Lienard, 2012). This behavior has been proposed to enhance maternal responsiveness, potentially by priming the mother's brain through the diverse hormonal content found in placenta (Kristal, DiPirro, & Thompson, 2012; Melo & González-Mariscal, 2003). "
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    ABSTRACT: Parturient females ingest placenta in most mammalian species, whereas fathers may do so in species in which both parents provide care for their offspring. To determine if the propensity to eat placenta varies with reproductive status in the biparental California mouse, we presented placenta to virgin (housed with a same-sex pairmate), expectant (pregnant with their first litter), and multiparous adult males and females. Liver was presented identically, 3-7 days later, as a control. Multiparous females were more likely to eat placenta than expectant and virgin females (p-values <0.016), whereas both multiparous and expectant males had higher incidences of placentophagia than virgins (p-values <0.016). Liver consumption did not differ among groups within either sex. These results suggest that propensity to eat placenta increases with maternal/birthing experience in females, and with paternal experience and/or cohabitation with a pregnant female in males. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc. Dev Psychobiol 9999: 1-9, 2013.
    Full-text · Article · May 2014 · Developmental Psychobiology
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